Budgeting Basics | How Much Do You Spend? Is Your Spending Normal?

How much should I spend on food?



These types of questions seem to keep popping up. 

And I understand why – because I, too, have looked for the same kind of answers – especially when I was new to realistic budgeting.

I had no idea where to start – and clearly what I had been doing wasn’t working. So I was hoping that someone else could tell me what to do!

But after almost five years of living by a budget, I have learned that there is no “should” answer.

At least not if you’re looking for a set amount – spend x on food, spend y on housing.

Instead of plugging in a percentage, for every item in our budget, we need to determine its amount by asking ourselves two questions:

#1. How much do I earn? Does this item fit within my disposable income?

#2. What are my priorities? Does the amount that I am spending on this item reflect my priorities?

Some of us earn more, some of us earn less, but unless you are a multi-millionaire (in which case, you probably aren’t reading KOAB anyway), you really should be asking yourselves these two questions – often.

And yet, that doesn’t stop us from wondering, even if we have a balanced budget – “Is my spending normal?”

I know I do! I wonder if the $200 we spend each month on gas is a lot – or a little. And yes, I will admit that knowing that it costs me less to fill up my van than the national average does comfort me somehow.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by NPR’s Planet Money, here are some of the American averages for various budget categories.

Rent / Mortgage – 31.5%

Utilities – 5.4%

Groceries – 8.6% (up from 7% three years ago, but still less than half what it was 25 years ago)

Food at Restaurants – 5.7%

Alcohol – .9%

Clothing & Shoes – 3% (women spend about 1.5 times what men do)

Car Payments – 5.7%

Gasoline – 5.3%

Tuition and childcare – 3%

I was feeling pretty good about our comparative spending until I got to that tuition and childcare line.

What about you? Do you wonder what you “should” be spending?What about that tuition line? Did that 3% feel like a swift kick in the gut?




  1. Rivka H. says:

    That 3% for tuition and childcare must be averaging in people who don’t have kids or who don’t have those costs, which is not realistic. It would be more interesting and applicable to see the average for people who actually spend that money. (i.e. average $500/month/child in infant/toddler daycare…?)

    • Or maybe 3% refers to the PTA contributions at free public schools.

      If it’s an average, and a majority of people send to free public schools or have family watch their kids etc… then the high costs paid by Yeshiva parents is offset and you get a low average.

  2. ITA! But for most, those daycare expenses eventually end…

  3. I thought the food and dining out percentages were too high.
    14.3% for food/dining out-that just seems so high.
    We are at about 7% for both of these combined!
    Mara, do you think these are fairly accurate across the board?

  4. Hava Freidenreich says:

    Our mortgage is in line, but the property taxes that accompany it make the bill more than average.

  5. I don’t see a category here for health care expenses but they can take a big chunk of the income. We always have the maximum flex account for out of pocket health related expenses such as co-pays. We also opted for an HMO which takes less from my husbands paycheck than regular insurance. It has meant less flexibility when choosing doctors. This budget also does not mention homeowners insurance and car owners insurance. Car repairs and home repairs are also high ticket budget items.

  6. Are the percentages being calculated based on net income, gross income, after tax income?

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